Between 2006 and 2016 we travelled to India quite regularly sourcing predominately Anglo-Indian furniture and architectural elements. We often travelled with our daughter and on most trips attempted to do something not related to sourcing antiques :)
We travelled to the tea stations in the south, we met with organisations helping young girls in Rajasthan, visited print and fabric making factories and of course went to lots of different markets ... I captured our experiences along the way.
On our travels we often sourced food related items like old spice boxes and wooden chapati boards. A highlight was visiting one of the oldest and largest markets in India - Chandni Chowk situated in the heart of Old Delhi. This kind of chaos is not for everyone. If you are brave enough give the rickshaw wallahs and the traffic jams a miss and take to the streets on foot…
Its pure human chaos.Our destination was Khari Baoli, the spice market, but there were many scenes to take in along the way… Throngs of buyers & sellers fill the streets humming alongside human rickshaws, touts of every kind & maimed street beggars. Push carts are piled high with sacks of grain and shiny faced children on their way to school. A twisted maze of alley ways make up the market areas - amongst this you will find the best-worst smells of India.
Down every little side street are specialist sellers – in Nai Sarak they sell stationery and books while in Lal Kuan you will find hardware. Tilak is an industrial chemical market, and Dariba Kalan is the street for jewellery…many of the shops have been here for over 200 years.
Along the way we pass Katra Neel the cloth market where Saris, silk and every other fabric imaginable are sold. After about half an hour of walking deep into the market we finally hit a corner…a crazy chaotic corner.
A mass of push carts, rickshaws and human traffic all going in different directions struggle around this corner. This is the start of Khari Baoli – a market full of spices, dry fruits, nuts, tamarind, dry plums, rice, grains and mulberries. The smell is intoxicating; cinnamon, nutmeg, curry leaves, herbs, the sweet smell of dates and dried figs. Alongside these smells is a kaleidoscope of colours as bags of flower spill on to the street. There are still some flower sellers here though the wholesale market moved to the outskirts of Delhi some years ago…that could be a whole other trip ❀
Like many large markets around the world, for the uninitiated its all too easy to get distracted or lost before you reach the pulsing heart of this place. Similarly when people visit the Puce in Paris - they often never get past the first few blocks of alley ways. Do some research and know where you want to go and what you want to see…use google maps to get familiar with the area first.
Generally, 2- 3 hours in a crowded heaving environment like this is my max before I’m completely overwhelmed. There are plenty of tours/walks available if that’s your preference and also lots of local touts who will hassle you senseless once you arrive … be prepared.
Visiting a marketplace like this captures India in all its beautiful chaos and is such a good reminder of the power of travel...and what a lasting impression it can leave. Let’s hope when we get the chance to travel again we do it with grace and curiosity.
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